Face Value

By Michael Young All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 16: Written in the Stars

The trip took even shorter than before. The galaxies swirled past my head almost too quickly for my eyes to comprehend, and soon I found myself on my back, watching the firelight dart across the ceiling. The patterns enthralled my senses, having a hypnotic effect. For the moment, I lost sight of what troubled me.

Suddenly, my vision clouded as a blue mass came between the ceiling and me. I blinked my eyes in an attempt to get rid of it, but instead of leaving, the blue mass became clearer and clearer until I could recognize the bloated face of Trezzlepeg.

“Good morning, gallant time traveler!” he cried, “no time for sleep! We have much to do. Those lockets aren’t finding themselves.”

Groggily, I rose to my feet and brushed the dust from my clothes. “Enough talk, you big, blue bellows,” I grumbled, “I don’t need a lecture or a sermon. I’ve died inside a thousand times already. I just want to know what I need to do, and what tools I need to do it.”

Trezzlepeg grunted, “I guess if you want to be so pessimistic about it. You should just be happy to be alive. Those gargoyles nearly tore you to pieces. It could have easily been worse--you could have inadvertently caused your own death by saving your brother. I’ve had that happen before.”

Trezzlepeg grinned stupidly in an attempt to lighten the mood. Luckily for him, I resisted the urge to punch him in the face. “Enough!” I cried, the blood rushing to my face, “I only wish I were dead. You and your stupid time traveling garbage ruined my life, and I don’t intend to leave it that way. I need answers and I need them now!”

Trezzlepeg folded his arms in resignation, “I’m listening, Socrates…spill the deepest desires of your heart for all I care, but don’t ever claim that I didn’t properly caution you.”

Before, I could speak, he motioned down the hallway, “On second thought, let’s go somewhere a little more comfortable first.”

I nodded my head slightly and followed him deeper into the shop, still keeping my distance. We walked along in silence for what seemed like ten or fifteen minutes, letting my angry adrenaline rush subside.

At a seemingly unimportant spot, Trezzlepeg called a halt. With the flair of a professional performer, Trezzlepeg produced his panpipes miraculously from midair, and produced a flourish of notes. A sound like a foghorn, called from the distance and the shape of a small gondola shot towards us, eventually stopping for us to get in. The boat had been crafted out of fine lumber and been painted with an intricate tapestry of colors.

As soon as we had both taken seats, he raised the pipes to his lips once again and blew one long, steady note. What happened next defied all expectation. The craft, begrudgingly at first, started to rise off the ground, and climbed towards the ceiling. However, when we reached what should have been the ceiling, we continued to rise until we leveled off high above the hallways in a starry field, and began to build up momentum like a train picking up speed. Soon, the boat cut through the space like fire tearing through dry underbrush, causing the stars to blur. Surprisingly, the movement was still gentle enough as to not make me sick to my stomach.

I gazed out in amazement, comforted by the beauty that surrounded us. “Are we still in the shop?” I asked softly.

Trezzlepeg gazed into the grand vastness around us and then glanced back, “Yes, but I’m not sure how this pathway came to be. It was simply here when I took charge, and I’ve taken a liking for it.”

I crinkled my forehead and chanced a question, “Took charge? There was someone before you?”

Surprisingly, the glee washed from his face, replaced by a deep etched frown of disgust as if the remark had conjured up a sour taste in his mouth. He drew in the clean air and let it out in a sigh, “Yes, there was someone before me, but I don’t like to talk about him much. This job may have its perks, the foremost being immortality, but it’s insanely lonely. The last Shopkeeper just left one day. He went downstairs and never came back without telling anyone where he was going. Then I awake in the middle of the night by a bright light, and told by a strange man that I have to come with him. Naturally, I thought that I was dreaming and so I complied. I went with the man, and I ended up here. He fed me a bunch of lines about being a ‘chosen one’ and being ‘highly privileged’, but I didn’t believe him for a second. I did not choose this profession, and lately it has become like a prison to me.”

His shoulders drooped, coughed, just barely audible, and leaned against the side of the boat, “I guess there is no use complaining about it. I can’t get out. The last Shopkeeper could roam about at will, but I’m sealed in here so tight, that it would take the armies of a million worlds to free me.”

His words hit a switch deep inside me, and immediately I was filled with sympathy for the pathetic creature.

“Trezzlepeg,” I said, “Why can’t you just go the same way I do?”

Trezzlepeg swiveled his pudgy neck back around to look at me. He smiled, knowingly, like a middle school math teacher about ready to explain a problem with an obvious solution, “Ah,” he replied, “because I’m the only one who can open the door out, and that has to be done from within my shop. The people in charge have made it so that I can’t open the door and go through it too. I guess that’s life.”

Once again he leaned forward on his bulgy elbows and spoke, his voice taking a slightly caustic edge, “Don’t talk to me about hardships until you’ve been through what I’ve been through. At least you still have a home.”

His words were truly humbling, and I held my tongue for the remainder of the ride. We glided along for a few minutes more, when Trezzlepeg gestured off to the side at a small orange glow in the distance, “There’s our destination. Hold on.”

He retrieved the pipes from wherever he held them, and broke out with a shrill note that descended gradually until it bottomed out, outside the range of my hearing, and as he did, the craft made it swift decent towards the light. The craft picked up considerable speed and turbulence, and I clutched the sides tight, attempting not to lose my balance. I clutched my hand desperately over my mouth, and closed my eyes trying to keep the nausea at bay,

However, before my queasiness became too strong, the craft descended back into the recognizable shop and reduced its speed. We had returned to the spacious library. The boat hovered about for a few moments as if it had had a mind of its own and it was trying to locate a suitable landing ground, but finally it came to rest about a foot off the ground next to a ring of plush armchairs of assorted colors. Without warning, Trezzlepeg disembarked first, unwittingly sending me flying off the side of the boat. Thankfully, I landed with a thud right on the plush cushions of one of the nearest armchairs. My impact sent up swirling clouds of dust however, the suddenness of my exit had left me almost too startled to sneeze.

Seeing the commotion he had caused, Trezzlepeg bumbled over to my side his face wrinkled in a worried grimace, “Face! I’m sorry about that. I usually ride with much larger customers. At least nothing is broken. You’ll need to be in one piece to face the task ahead of you.”

I raised an eyebrow in inquiry, “What sort of task might you have in mind? Tell me anything, just as it involves me eventually getting my life back.”

“First things first. Before I can get you anything else in the way of time travel, we need to retrieve those lockets. After recent incidents, I’m convinced that Mercos wants to get his hands on them, and personally I don’t think it’s to give to a sweetheart. His planet is at war, and more than likely he wants them to help his side turn the tide in his favor.”

Trezzlepeg, who up to this point had been standing, blew a short toot on his panpipes towards the ring of chairs. Amazingly, a fluffy blue one near the edge responded to the toot and scampered towards him like an obedient pup to its master. Obviously pleased with his choice, he sunk his husky frame into the padding and patted the arm as one would faithful hound. He raised his feet a short distance of the ground and with another quick whistle, a matching footrest came trotting in to catch them. Comfortably positioned, he smiled smugly back in my direction and gloated, “Mighty handy little contraptions. No one can tell whether to call them pets or furniture.”

Trezzlepeg snapped his fingers and immediately the back of the chair conformed to massage his back .

If this is prison, sign me up.

The chair distracted Trezzlepeg for a minute or two, and it might have lasted for hours had I not cut in just as he was about to doze off, “TP, don’t you think there are more important matters than your aches and pains? You said this task was important…”

His head shot up from its mindless stupor, “Oh, yes…uh, where were we…ah…yes: the lockets.”

He snapped off the chair and once again his tone became grave, “Face, I need you to go back to your world and retrieve those lockets. The lives of many might be at stake here. Though I’m not sure of Mercos’s true intentions, we have already seen that he doesn’t play fair or nice, and that doesn’t make me eager to find out.”

I leaned forward slightly and told him where Fred and Christine had put the lockets. “How am I supposed to retrieve them from the time capsule? There is no way of knowing where it is, and it won’t be retrieved for thirty years! I don’t suppose you have a gadget that will magically get us out of all of this.”

TP stroked his chin, and squinted ever so slightly, “Yes and no. Let me explain. Time travel is right out. From tracking you around, we have come to the conclusion that Mercos is ‘riding the coattails’ of our time travel. Whatever he is using only lets him get through when someone opens the door. I can’t risk another onslaught.”

I sank back dejectedly in my chair, almost wishing that it would swallow me, Then,” I moaned, “what other choices do we have?”

His hand moved from his chain to his head, “First, I have a confession to make: I have been monitoring your activities, or should I say, I’ve had a friend of yours trace your steps, and have discovered a plethora of useful information.”

Seeing my puzzled look, he reached into his pocket and retrieved a pair of spectacles, “Here, put these back on, and maybe you will see what I mean.”

. As I slid the glassed on my face, Andrus reappeared over Trezzlepeg’s shoulder. The Shadow waved a paw, and shrugged his shoulders. My mouth responded before my mind could begin to engage, “Andrus! You’re still around! I was worried that I wouldn’t get a chance to update you on what I’ve learned, but I see that you’ve already educated yourself.”

I turned back to Trezzlepeg with a hint of fire in my eyes, “Why did you think you needed to spy on me? Do you think that I would try to run away?”

Trezzlepeg stood his ground, “Of course not,” he said calmly, “you and I both know that that would be futile. The reason, I will keep to myself.”

Tired of arguing, I waved him off with my hand, “Enough. Spill it already. I’d like to get started before the next Ice Age.”

TP nodded curtly and began, “Yes. The information that I am referring to concerns the capsule. According to the clipping that you read, no one knows where on City Hall grounds that the capsule is buried, correct?”

I fidgeted in my chair, “Right it said that it was buried in an undisclosed location. You think they were hiding military secrets.”

Trezzlepeg chuckled, softly, “Yes, but I think that I have a way to discover where. Andrus, if you please.”

Andrus retrieved a small object off a nearby shelf, and placed it in Trezzlepeg’s pudgy fingers. Trezzlepeg smirked, as his eyes brightened with the anticipation of showing off a new toy, “This is a Recronoscope. A very useful trinket. When you set the dial and look through the lens on the top, it allows you to see past events that happened at the place where you point it. We can search around the grounds with this scope and see where they buried it. That way, you can steal back at night and uncover the loot. What do you say?”

My eyes wandered from Andrus to Trezzlepeg.

“Fine,” I said glumly, “I’ll try it, but don’t expect quick results. I’ll have to be discrete about my actions, or people might start asking questions.”

Obviously, Trezzlepeg had had some time to think this plan through, because he didn’t miss a beat, “Already taken care of. I’m sending one of those disguise kits with you, as well as Andrus, and another specialized Shadow to make your work a bit easier.”

To this, Andrus crinkled his nose, “Do you think me not up to the task?” he murmured harshly, “surely the two of us can handle this alone.”

Trezzlepeg shook his head, “We’ve wasted enough time already. Anything that can get the lockets back into our hands even a moment sooner is worth doing. You don’t realize the full danger we are facing here, so I suggest you engage you wings and shut your trap.”

Andrus buzzed of behind one of the chairs and out of sight, his pride obviously wounded. Trezzlepeg glanced about indifferently, “I need to retrieve that other Shadow for you, Face, so stick around and wait for me to come back. You are free to sample any of the volumes on the shelves if you get bored.”

Trezzlepeg tossed me the Recronoscope, and blew a series on his panpipes, recalling the gondola. With surprising grace for his ungainly girth, he embarked and was soon nothing more than a speck against the horizon.

After watching him go, I took a moment to study the strange object in my hands. It resembled a magnifying glass, plated in gold, and was fitted with a series of dials. As I fiddled with it, I discovered that each dial could manipulate a the year, month, day, hour, and even minutes and seconds.

This intriguing device held my attention for a while, but as the seconds droned on into minutes, and one minute into fifteen, I began to lose interest. I decided to take Trezzlepeg’s suggestion of losing myself in one of the numerous volumes that snaked about the walls.

With a yawn, I sauntered over to the nearest shelf. My eyes lighted over the smorgasbord of titles:

Rare Intergalactic Lifeforms

The Bridge of Arahamel

1001 Recipes from the Planet Bocaj

Combat with Lasers: A Complete Course

The Battle of the Blue Wizard

I continued along the line and my eyes finally fell on a volume that stood out from the rest. It was a light, almost leafy green, strewn with gold embroidery along the spine. At once, I was drawn to the handsome book. As I peered in closer, I was able to make out the gold lettering along the spine: The Book of Gyem

I had never heard the title before, yet it enticed me. With trembling fingers, I stretched out my hand and slipped the book from the shelf.

The cover was similarly adorned with gold trim, with the striking title emblazoned across the cover. With the steady hand of a surgeon, I swiped my hand across the cover to remove the dust on the ancient cover.

Freed from the dust, the gold trim glittered came to life in the ambient candlelight. Curious, I placed on hand under the cover and lifted it away.

But before I could glimpse the first page, a torrent of sparkling, purple mist leapt from the pages and engulfed me in a twinkling cloud. The mist swirled around me, invading my lungs and obscuring my vision. Suddenly, a wave of drowsiness swept over me. My eyes dropped like window shades, and my muscles grew limp and lifeless. Helpless to resist, I dropped to the wooden floor and drifted into deep slumber.

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